Five days of Atlanta’s Black Lives Matter protests culminated in Buckhead July 11 with a march by hundreds to the Governor’s Mansion that pressured the mayor and police chief to show up for a private meeting inside a police truck.

The protest march begins on Lenox Road from the Lenox MARTA Station. (Photo John Ruch)

Mayor Kasim Reed and activists from the protest-organizing coalition, called “ATL Is Ready,” reportedly agreed to meet again Monday as a condition for giving up their hours-long occupation of West Paces Ferry Road. During the wait, protesters banged drums and chanted such slogans as, “No justice, no peace!”

Previous ATL Is Ready protests were held Downtown as a local version of Black Lives Matter protests around the country following controversial police killings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. But the July 11 march shifted the action to Buckhead, one of the South’s wealthiest neighborhoods and rarely the site of protests.

The protest at the Buckhead MARTA Station. (Photo John Ruch)

“This is an upper-class white demographic,” said ATL Is Ready protester Aurelia Williams in an interview. “These are the ‘All Lives Matter’ folks,” she said, referring to a conservative slogan often used to counter Black Lives Matter activism.

“[City officials] care a lot about this side of town,” another activist said as marchers gathered under an advertising sign for Lenox Square Mall.

Buckhead has seen a couple of previous Black Lives Matter protests, including a 2014 blockage of the mall’s entrance and, on July 9, a small protest march within the mall held by other activists. The ATL Is Ready march was something different.

Protesters sit in Peachtree Road to block the entrance to the Lenox Square Mall. (Photo John Ruch)

Hundreds of marchers went roughly 3 miles from the Lenox MARTA Station to the Governor’s Mansion. Along the way, they had a brief face-off with police stopping them from parading onto Ga. 400, and sat down in Peachtree Road to block the Lenox Mall entrance. They went through Loudermilk Park, with one protester giving the Charlie Loudermilk statue a pat, and marched past the West Paces Ferry mansions while beating drums and attracting noisy helicopters.

Police guard the mall. (Photo John Ruch)

On Peachtree, Atlanta police arrested several protesters for unclear reasons and stood in a line confronting the crowd for several minutes before moving away. Most of those arrested were white, according to the police department; organizers used a tactic, discussed during the mall entrance sit-down, where white “allies” march on the outside to be targeted by any sudden arrests first to protect black protesters.

The Atlanta Police Department later reported 15 arrests, of which 14 were “obstructing traffic” charges. The other one was for “required bicycle equipment” after police arrested a bike-rider who appeared to be a protest guide or monitor as protesters complained that the arrest was baseless. The State Patrol and MARTA Police, which also policed the protest, say they did not make any arrests.

Protesters are arrested on Peachtree Road. (Photo John Ruch)

Responses to the protest from residents and passers-by varied, with most seeming just curious. Many drivers honked or pumped fists in support, while one called out, “All Lives Matter.” Outside the mall, one passer-by loudly complained about the protesters flying a U.S. flag upside-down.

“Just sad,” said one man standing in a driveway off West Paces Ferry, about the protest. “I wonder how long they’re going to let them beat on that drum?”

Some other bystanders near the Governor’s Mansion who identified themselves as Buckhead residents had more complex thoughts, saying both police and protesters can get out of hand and that they understand the reasons for Black Lives Matter marches.

Protesters chant “Hands up, don’t shoot!” while marching on Peachtree Road. (Photo John Ruch)

Antwin Baker said his family had just moved in that day. He said he has an uncle who trains police officers, and he recently helped cook special meals for officers in south Georgia in memory of the recent mass murder of Dallas police during a Black Lives Matter protest. But Baker, who is black, also said that night, a state trooper “told me to ‘get the hell on’” when asked what the protest activity was, while treating another man better.

In Atlanta, Baker said, “we’ve got to find a way for our police department to merge with our community.”

Gordini Hall, a white Buckhead resident, said he understands the protest and why it came to Buckhead.

Resident Gordini Hall discusses the march while protesters and police face off at the Governor’s Mansion in the background. (Photo John Ruch)

“They want to bring it to where they can get the most attention and this is an all-white neighborhood. We’re divided,” he said.

“It’s hard for a white person to understand how black people are treated,” including while driving through that neighborhood, he said. “The fact of the matter is, we need to come together through love and not hate and antagonism…It boils down to people, why is it like this? Why is there a world like this? Where’s the love? This is not what it’s supposed to be like.”

The Baker family (from left, Kahadijah, Brooklyn, Christopher and Antwin) stands on West Paces Ferry Road during the protest. (Photo John Ruch)

On West Paces Ferry, the protest became an unusual suburban-style march that had to cross the street due to one side’s lack of a sidewalk. At the protest’s beginning, organizers said a meeting with the mayor, governor and police chief was a top demand. Outside the Governor’s Mansion, where a line of state and Atlanta police guarded the gates, that turned into an ultimatum for the protest leaving Buckhead. Gov. Nathan Deal was not in the mansion—or even the country—but Mayor Reed and Police Chief George Turner eventually arrived for the unusual meeting inside a truck with select ATL Is Ready protesters.

Reed, among others, has criticized the protesters for lacking any clear demands, while protesters say “Black Lives Matter” is self-explanatory.

Protesters and police watch each other across West Paces Ferry Road at the Governor’s Mansion. (Photo John Ruch)

“The demands aren’t all that complicated: Stop killing black people,” Williams said. “We’re going to keep marching until you stop killing us.”

However, she and other protesters said there is at least one specific item likely to come up in Monday’s mayor meeting: ending “Operation Whiplash,” a police gun-crime crackdown in southern and western Atlanta that they argue is heavy-handed.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

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